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Poster: Uncle_John Date: Feb 16, 2013 10:37pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Was Jerry a Lazy Songwriter?

That's harsh, Althea - only 7 Weir songs? I count about 20 that made it into regular rotation for a year or more and another dozen or so that were good songs but only played a few times. Sure, he wrote some clunkers, but so did Jerry.

I think Bob's songwriting is much like his playing in that it developed in Jerry's shadow. Bob found his guitar voice in weird chords and counter-point rhythms that gave him a space in the band's sound. His songs are the same way - lots of non-standard time signatures, 'difficult' chords, and challenging melodies. I'd say that many of his songs were less 'essential' because the band didn't play them much because they were relatively challenging to play well.

Jerry's songs, on the other hand, tend to follow well established conventions of rhythm, melody, and chord progression. Jerry was a folk singer at heart and the music he wrote for Hunter's songs reflected that. Most of Jerry's songs could work well as campfire sing-alongs, and that visceral familiarity makes so many of his songs appealing and enduring. Plus, they were (mostly) easy for the band to play.

I'm one who thinks Bob's contribution is under-rated - as a player, as a songwriter, and as a performer. Without Bobby the band would have been good, but I'd say he provided an essential spice that made them great.


Back to the original question - of course Jerry was a lazy songwriter. Jerry was a hedonist. He managed to spend most of his life dong what he wanted to do and avoiding things he didn't want to do. Playing music provides instant gratification, writing music doesn't. I have no doubt that if Hunter's lyrics didn't immediately suggest a melody and chord progression, Jerry would put it off as long as he could.

I suspect that Bob, oh the other hand, worked long and hard crafting his songs. Jerry's songs mostly have the easy, comfortable feel of casual inspiration, while Bob's tend to sound carefully crafted and composed.

- John

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Poster: AltheaRose Date: Feb 17, 2013 7:11am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Was Jerry a Lazy Songwriter?

Oh, it's not meant as harsh or a put-down of Bob or his songs. Sorry if it sounds that way, cuz I agree he's underrated in terms of his contribution. I'm talking about songs that really define the band, as opposed to making it into regular rotation or generally well-written or being perfect vehicles for jams. I just think his contribution wasn't in writing songs that can be described that way -- which also wasn't Phil's contribution, obviously -- and that aspect really jumps out when you look at the songs side-by-side and look at the numbers.

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Poster: unclejohn52 Date: Feb 17, 2013 5:24am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Was Jerry a Lazy Songwriter?

Well said John - agree wholeheartedly.

Bob played "weird" chords - I like that!

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Feb 17, 2013 8:26am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Was Jerry a Lazy Songwriter?

I agree with your description of Weir's songs, though I think it also describes what makes them suffer as songs - there's very few that I'd want to hear at all if they weren't being jammed out by the Dead.
Garcia pointed out in '81, "He constructs everything but the melody; the melody is the last thing to get composed... They're arrangement-strong and melody-weak... They don't have the kind of sung melody you find running through your head." (There are a few exceptions.)

But this I must disagree with:
"Many of his songs were less 'essential' because the band didn't play them much because they were relatively challenging to play well."

Which ones were those? Most of Weir's songs were played plenty of times. The ones that were dropped after a while don't seem to me like forgotten classics. (And some that were dropped, like Born Cross-Eyed or Weather Report part 1, were still very familiar or frequent during the period they were played.) The band actually seemed to thrive on Weir's more challenging material.

This post was modified by light into ashes on 2013-02-17 16:26:07

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Poster: Uncle_John Date: Feb 17, 2013 9:57pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: Was Jerry a Lazy Songwriter?

LiA is right, of course. I shouldn't have spouted off from the top of my head.

Looking at songs that made it into regular rotation for a time and were later dropped for good, it's actually a pretty short list: Cryptical, St. Stephen, Cosmic Charley, Doin' that Rag, Dupree's, Casey Jones, To Lay me Down, Ripple, Weather Report, Lazy Lightning, Lost Sailor, Day Job, Esau, and Push Comes to Shove. I read somewhere that they quit playing St Stephen because it took too much effort/practice to get it right. That may have been the case for a few others on this list, but I suspect that most were dropped because they grew tired of them or they were weak songs to begin with.

Back to Althea's original question - I basically agree with what she suggested for a few reasons: 1. Garcia/Hunter were better songwriters for the reasons I gave in my earlier post and as supported by the Garcia quote cited by LiA. 2. Garcia/Hunter wrote ~twice as many songs, so the G/H vibe permeates the whole Dead canon. 3. G/H wrote a LOT of songs early on that served to define their essential and classic 70's sound.

On the other hand, by the late 70's, Weir had accumulated enough songs that his contribution to their setlists was more significant. I tend to think of the 80's as the Weir years - his songs were more prominent, and he stepped up into the rock star frontman role while Jerry often nodded off into the shadows.

These days I mostly listen to shows from the 60's and 70's when Jerry (and Pig) set the tone, but during my touring days in the 80's it was Bobby who carried the show.

So yeah, Weir's TOO, Sugar Mag, GSeT, Playin', and several others were essential songs during the golden years, but Estimated, Miracle, St of Circ, Stranger, Throwing Stones, etc., were essential tunes in the 80's and 90's.

Were they lazy songwriters? All reports suggest that Jerry was. I wouldn't say Bob was lazy, but he was not very prolific as songwriters go. Jerry wrote more than half his songs before 1975. Bob also had a songwriting peak in the early 70's. From 1976-1994 each of them debuted an average of about one song/year....

- John